Preparing Teachers for Rural Appointments: Lessons from the Mid-Continent

By Barley, Zoe A. | Rural Educator, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Preparing Teachers for Rural Appointments: Lessons from the Mid-Continent


Barley, Zoe A., Rural Educator


Rural schools face difficulties recruiting or retaining qualified teachers. Prospective teachers need help better understanding the nature of rural teaching. Despite many pluses, collégial isolation, low salaries, multiple grade or subject teaching assignments, and lack of familiarity with rural schools and communities are challenges to new teachers in rural schools. This study examined nine mid-continent institutions for five components identified as preparing and retaining teachers to teach in rural schools. From the 120 teacher preparation institutions in the mid-continent, 1 7 confirmed the existence of a rural program emphasis. Nine of the 17 had three or more rural programs. Three of the nine programs offered options for teachers to receive multiple certifications. As to access, seven of the nine programs offered online courses and four offered courses at more accessible community college campuses. Four of the nine recruited students from rural communities and two programs actively sought student teaching placements in rural schools.

The Conditions of Rural Teaching

Rural schools have difficulty recruiting and retaining new teachers', not just as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act's (No Child Left Behind Act, 2002) highly qualified teacher requirements, but also because of teaching conditions unique to rural schools (Monk, 2007). The teachers rural schools recruit must be prepared for the conditions of rural teaching. They not only must have the credentials they need, but they should also be aware of the nature of small schools in small communities. This article provides an overview of the nature of these conditions as background to what teacher preparation programs could consider to prepare teachers for rural schools. The article also shares what teacher preparation programs in seven states in the mid-continent are currently doing to prepare highly qualified teachers to teach in rural schools. Rural conditions can vary greatly across settings. And varying economic conditions can make a major difference from one rural community to the next. While there are many positive aspects of rural teaching such as small class sizes and a closer relationship with parents, we focus on the difficulties to better understand what teacher preparation institutions might do to prepare their graduates for rural teaching. One way to identify potentially problematic rural teaching conditions is to examine teacher turnover. A Canadian study (Murphy & Angelski, 1996/97) sought, in an exploratory inquiry, to understand rural teacher mobility in British Columbia. They surveyed teachers who had terminated their contracts at their own discretion within a single rural district. Teachers indicated that the community's isolation, its distance from family and friends, and the costs of travel to larger communities with shopping opportunities influenced their decision to stay or leave the rural district. Factors under the control of school administration - such as class size, salary, and supervision - were not viewed as issues. The authors concluded that individuals recruited to teach in a rural district would need to find rural life appealing in order to stay because the factors that influenced teacher satisfaction were community factors, not factors under the control of the school.

The nature of teaching can be different in rural areas than in suburban or urban areas. Because of the small size of rural districts and schools, teachers often need to teach multiple subjects and possibly multiple grades, sometimes in multigrade, mixed-age classrooms. Barrow and Burchett (2000) reported that 49% of rural science teachers in their study had more than four daily preparations. In some rural areas teachers also need to be prepared to teach students with a wide variety of skill levels in the same classroom (such as mainstreamed special education students and English language learners).

Filling Vacancies in Rural Schools

Rural schools reported at a higher rate (at least 4% higher than city, suburban, or town schools) either that it was very difficult or that they were unable to fill vacancies for 4 of 12 teaching areas surveyed, with English as a second language (42. …

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